Handguns turned in are seen during a gun buyback event in
Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the wake of the shootings at
Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. REUTERS/ Michelle
School teachers in Texas and Ohio are flocking to free
firearms classes in the wake of the Connecticut elementary
school massacre, some vowing to protect their students with
guns even at the risk of losing their jobs.
In Ohio, more than 900 teachers, administrators and school
employees asked to take part in the Buckeye Firearms
Association's newly created, three-day gun training
programme, the association said.
In Texas, an $85 Concealed Handgun License (CHL) course
offered at no cost to teachers filled 400 spots immediately,
forcing the school to offer another class, one instructor
"Any teacher who is licensed and chooses to be armed should
be able to be armed," said Gerald Valentino, co-founder of
the Buckeye Firearms Association. "It should be every
The December 14 tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, sparked a
national debate about whether to arm teachers, prompting
passionate arguments on both sides.
The deaths of 6- and 7-year-old school children led President
Barack Obama to promise "meaningful action" to curtail gun
violence, while the National Rifle Association has advocated
arming teachers and placing trained guards in each of the
country's 100,000 schools.
Ohio and Texas are not the first to offer no-cost arms
training to teachers. Just days after the Connecticut mass
murder, some 200 teachers in Utah underwent free instruction
from gun activists.
Critics ridicule arming teachers as a foolhardy idea promoted
by overzealous gun enthusiasts, saying it would only add
danger to the classroom while distracting teachers from their
job of educating children.
Supporters say an armed teacher could have stopped the
massacre at Sandy Hook, where a 20-year-old man armed with a
military-style assault rifle killed 20 children and six
adults before killing himself.
"What we know is that these spree killers are looking for the
highest death toll possible. They look for no-gun zones like
schools," Valentino said. "It doesn't make sense that we
guard our gold with guns and we guard our kids with hope."
The Buckeye Firearms Association, which successfully lobbied
for 2004 legislation allowing people to carry concealed
handguns, is offering all eligible state educators free
admission to what it calls "an intensive three-day class
where you will learn many of the same skills and tactics used
by first responders."
Of the more than 900 applicants so far, 73 percent were
teachers and 10 percent were kindergarten teachers, Valentino
said. Sixty percent were male and 51 percent worked in high
schools, he said.
GUNS AND THE LAW
Ohio law does not expressly prohibit guns in schools and
leaves it to each individual school board to set policy. Ohio
Attorney General Mike DeWine referred to teachers as "first
responders" after the Connecticut shootings and announced his
office would expand safety training for Ohio school
Texas state law allows teachers who have concealed handgun
permits to carry weapons into public school classrooms as
long as they have permission from the district
Measures introduced in the Texas legislature since the Sandy
Hook shooting would make it easier to carry firearms onto
college campuses and into schools and other public places
where weapons are now banned.
Josh Felker, who teaches the firearms classes in suburban San
Antonio, said many of the teachers have told him they plan to
carry weapons into their classrooms, even at risk of losing
"They are upset at what happened, and no one is going to hurt
their kids," said Felker, who offered the class to teachers
for free over the holiday break. "One teacher said flat out,
'I don't care if the law changes or not, I'm going to take it
to school.' Most of them just want to protect their kids."
On Thursday, the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy will
offer its first "Active Shooter Training Response for
Educators Course," which up to now has been reserved for
One Texas superintendent who since 2008 has given permission
to teachers with handgun licenses to carry a gun in school is
David Thweatt, who heads the rural Harrold Independent School
District, about 175 miles (280 km) northwest of Dallas.
"First they have to have a concealed handgun license, they
have to be approved to carry on our campus, they have to
undergo additional training, and they are limited to
ammunition which breaks apart when it hits a hard object,"
He said he decided to allow teachers to carry weapons in
class because in his rural district "law enforcement would
never make it here on time" in case of an emergency.
Although the names of teachers who carry weapons were meant
to remain confidential, their identities were widely known in
town, Thweatt said.
Valentino was adamant that Ohio's armed teachers remain
anonymous, citing concerns that local media might reveal who
was taking the course.
"The idea is for no one to know what teachers might be
carrying. It would be very dangerous to identify these
teachers. We don't want to put a target on them," Valentino
Texas Republican State Representative Debbie Riddle has
introduced a measure to require school boards and
superintendents to give permission to teachers who have
completed the concealed handgun licensing course to carry
weapons into the classroom.
"It would have a chilling effect on any copycats who wanted
to replicate what was done at Sandy Hook," Riddle said.